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From Accra's polo fields, on the eve of Ghana's historic independence fifty years ago, Prime Minister Nkrumah proclaimed that “at long last the battle had ended”

and his nation would be free. For centuries the Gold Coast had been no stranger to the mechanisms of colonial policy, indigenous politics and warfare. A prestigious artistic manifestation of these tensions are the appliquéd flags and banners of the Fante people. Using established repertoires of colours and motifs, these emblematic, powerful textiles originally served to differentiate the community militias known as Asafo, which today flourish as competitive fraternities holding both religious and civic functions. By fusing the tradition of communication through proverb with military pomp and ceremony, Asafo flags are commissioned to mark events such as the inauguration or death of a leader. Bold compositions relay statements of authority, depict historical events, boast superiority or antagonise rival 'companies'. Given Britain's influence in the region, the Union Jack was a common element of a flag's design until the tricolour Pan-African union of red, gold, and green took precedence at independence. Its red is said to symbolize the blood people must shed for liberty, the green for vegetation, and gold for mineral wealth. Besides being a party-political emblem, the cockerel is a symbol of pride and dominant authority. A popular proverb asserts, “the hen knows when it is dawn, but the rooster is left to announce it.” A contrast is made between the power of a chief and the wisdom of the elders. Meaning was made manifest when Nkrumah – after extinguishing gold-workers' freedom of political unity and passing laws curtailing democracy– was deposed in military coup. ••• Jamie Marshall


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